The Temple Dancer
In the mid-17th century Portuguese colony of Goa, beautiful, sheltered Lucinda Dasana is heir to the family fortune. But her family’s trade is threatened by the power struggle in India, so Lucinda’s uncle/guardian decides to send a little baksheesh (i.e., bribe) to the grand vizier in Bijapur to assure the family’s trading rights. The bribe takes the form of Maya, a temple dancer and expensive slave trained in the tantric arts. Set to guard her and make sure the deal goes through is the grizzled settlement man Jeptha da Gama, for the Dasanas, and the inscrutable Captain Pathan, for the grand vizier. Lucinda’s handsome, devious cousin, Geraldo, and the shady eunuch, Slipper, round out the group. Adventure, romance, betrayal, and murder ensue on the road to Bijapur.
This story, which is intended as an introduction to a larger epic about the final years of the Mogul Empire, was pulled together from parts culled from that epic. The characters are well-drawn, though Lucinda’s naïveté stretches credibility at times. The atmosphere is lush and convincing, and there’s plenty of action and sex, with bandits attacking and love interests for almost everyone. There’s also a hardy dose of intrigue surrounding a fabulous piece of jewelry, which is coveted by the secret power behind many thrones – the Brotherhood of eunuchs. The plot speeds along at a hectic pace, but occasionally shifts into slow motion to reflect the atmosphere of certain settings, such as the peaceful, all-but-forgotten palace at Belgaum, which provides a brief refuge for Lucinda and Maya.
Though this novel can be read as a standalone, its ending clearly sets up the ambitious story to be told in Speed’s next two novels. Though this is his first novel, The Temple Dancer is well-written and enjoyable – a favorable harbinger for Speed’s next works.